2016 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction · romance · rural ficition · small town · war

Book Review: The Family Secret by Fiona Palmer

Title: The Family Secretfmaily-secret

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: October 3rd 2016

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 384

Genres: Fiction, Romance, Australian

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

Kim Richards is a creative woman of the land, a rural ambassador who is renowned for her contribution to her community. But deep down, she is lonely. She’s already watched the man she loves marry someone else, and her dream of starting her own family feels like it’s slipping through her fingers.

Enter Charlie McNamara, an older corporate man who has arrived in Lake Grace on business. Sparks fly between Kim and Charlie, but he seems to have a hidden agenda and a past life he’s trying to hide. They’re both drawn to local hermit Harry, a Vietnam Veteran still haunted by memories from the war.

What ties these three lost souls together? Can they solve a long-held family mystery and heal fractures of the heart?

From the bestselling author of The Saddler Boys comes a heartwarming story across three generations about when to fight and when to surrender; and how new love can heal old wounds.

THE FAMILY SECRET features characters from THE SADDLER BOYS in a brand new story.

My review:

In 2013, Fiona Palmer became the first author I listened to and met as part of Stories on Stage, a great locally organised event that connects the community to writers. Meeting Fiona Palmer was an important pinnacle in my reading life, as she introduced me to the genre I now love, Australian rural fiction.

Since 2013, Fiona Palmer has gone from strength to strength, growing as a writer and showing her audience that there are so many varied stories to come out of rural fiction. In her latest book, The Family Secret, Fiona shows us that she is unafraid of tackling hard hitting issues, with her story arc revolving around Vietnam and PTSD.

The Family Secret links three generations together, through the themes of war, sacrifice, heartache, and forgiveness. In the present day, in picturesque Lake Grace, a man named Charlie McNamara rolls into the small town for work reasons. As well as work, Charlie has made his way to Lake Grace for personal reasons. Charlie is trying to find out more about his family heritage, which has only just been revealed to him. His business ties lead him to a local farm, operated by Kim Richards and her family. Kim Richards is a woman hoping that love will enter her life again and her encounter with Charlie leads to attraction. However, the possibility of being able to love again is offset by Kim’s reservations about being hurt in the past. Kim’s pathway to finding love again and Charlie’s search for his family heritage, leads them both to a local older man. Harry is a mysterious Vietnam veteran who knows much more about Charlie’s background than he is prepared to reveal. Moving between the present day and the turbulent times before, during and immediately after the Vietnam War, this is a book that unites three people together, through redemption and second chances in love.

Fiona Palmer’s latest novel offers the reader a mesmerising contemporary storyline. It combines this with a poignant reflection on a heartbreaking story to emerge from the ashes of the Vietnam War. The contemporary narrative thread involving Kim and Charlie offers the reader a gentle, slow burn rural romance, involving two people who are searching for love and meaning in their lives. Unlocking Charlie’s family secret is what kept the pages turning for me while reading this book. I also held hopes that the lonely Kim would find a sense of happiness again in her life. Kim’s longing to start a family made her a character I could easily sympathise with. Harry, the older male character in the story, appears sketchy for much of the novel but once his secret is revealed, the book comes together nicely.

Palmer always excels at deriving a realistic country based setting for her readers. The Family Secret is no exception. As a WA girl, I always look forward to discovering where Palmer will set her latest novel. Lake Grace, the tiny town which acts as the locale for The Family Secret, is a small town I have passed through on my journey to another nearby larger town. Nevertheless, I relished Palmer’s setting descriptions, which are always a joy to read.

I believe the strength in this particular novel from Palmer lies in the Vietnam based parts of the narrative. It shows Palmer’s depth of research and her ability to bring the human side of war alive for the reader. Readers like myself, who may have little knowledge or exposure to the Australian Vietnam war experience, will find this book educative. I found myself experiencing a mixture of emotions while reading the Vietnam passages, along with the letters that are contained in these sections of the story. I felt a sense of profound sadness, disbelief, as well as enlightenment. This is a book that also spurred me on to read further literature on the Australian Vietnam War experience, as well as resulting PTSD that affected many returning soldiers.

I urge readers far and wide, not just rural romance fans, to select The Family Secret to read. It offers a valuable insight into the Vietnam War experience from an Australian rural perspective. Wrapped up in this moving tale, is a heart-warming story of the bonds of family, love and hope. The Family Secret is a must read.

The Family Secret by Fiona Palmer was published in October 2016 by Penguin Books Australia.

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